Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 29 February 2008

Finally, An Essay I Can Agree With

I don't like public relations types. I've met too many for whom even questionable positions assume a degree of virtuosity because of the paycheque that accompanies those positions. As a result, I take a lot of what Rav Avi Shafran writes with a large grain of salt. After all, he's the PR man for the Agudah and no matter what the Agudah does, whether it's positively opposing scientific ignorance or denying that much domestic or physical abuse takes place in the Agudah world, he's there to present it with a positive spin. However, his latest piece is one I can say I fully enjoyed.

I've always been bothered by the amount of amorality present in modern medicine. Either we are taught to be coldly scientific (for example, subjects such as cardiology, pathology, etc.) or we are subjected to secular humanistic views (in medical ethics subjects). There is a strong emphasis on not using one's personal views during interactions with a patient. For laudable reasons we are all trained to be cautious of inflicting our points of view on others who might not share them. This wold infringe on their personal autonomy, currently the central principle in the doctor-patient relationship.

But what happens when cold science and secular amorality collide? The recent famous case of Samuel Golubchuk illustrates just this eventuality. Mr. Golubchuk, a Torah-observant Jew, is currently in a state of extremis, having suffered a significant decline in cerebral function and is now dependant on a respirator for breathing. However, in recent weeks some reports have suggested signs of improvement. At any rate, his family has resisted medical attempts to turn the respirator off while the physicians caring for him have gone to court for the right to do so, feeling that due to his current lack of cerebral function, he is effectively dead anyway.

This case illustrates the simplicity with which secular medical ethics approaches the concept of the sanctity of life. In short, life has no sanctity. Whether it be an inconvenient pregnancy or an old man occupying a precious ICU bed, life can be terminated if necessary and, due to a convenient twisting of terms, it is no longer murder.

The problem with this thinking, however, is that the red lines separating justified killing from murder now become arbitrary. If Sam Golubchuk is dead, according to current medical thinking, what about someone who will be in his position within a few hours due to an evolving cerebral bleed or cardiac arrest? If there is nothing morally wrong with aborting a baby due to personal choice or to avoid giving birth to a child with a genetic defect, why does the child's life suddenly become sacrosanct when it emerges into the cold light of the delivery room? If euthanasia of the terminally ill is a great leap forward, what about doing it for those who will become terminally ill and wish to die while still in good health?

In the end, there are only two real positions - either life has sanctity and cannot be tampered with, or it does not. Anything that presents itself between those two extremes is merely the former with some window dressing to allow its proponents to avoid feelings of guilt for the fact that they are trying to legtimize the killing of fellow human beings.

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